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59 posts from September 2009

September 21, 2009

Dolphins-Colts tied 7-7 starting 2nd quarter

It got started inauspiciously as the Colts took a 7-0 lead on an 80-tard pass from Peyton Manning to Dallas Clark.

The Dolphins fought back with a Wildcat powered tying TD drive on their first possession. ronnie and Ricky have 12 carries for 67 yards in the first quarter. The two combined for only 17 carries all last week.

And now we're starting the second quarter. And we're continuing the live blog in the comments below. See you there.

Monday Night Football Live Blog!

I'm already here and it's still two-and-half hours before kickoff. And I'm watching Jake Long, Justin Smiley and Jake Grove already on the field working on their pass protection stances. Donald Thomas just joined them although I doubt he's going to get much work done being as that he's still wearing sandals.

In case you're wondering, we do have a live blog going this evening. So please come back for the festivities.

The Dolphins will be wearing their aqua tops and white pants this evening, according to the team's crack media relations staff.

The inactives are: John Nalbone, Lionel Dotson, Shawn Murphy, Patrick Turner, Cameron Wake, Andrew Gardner, Chris Clemons and Chad Henne is the No. 3 QB

Talked to Stephen Ross a few minutes ago and he's obviously excited. Asked how he'll measure success this year, he answered, "Winning the Super Bowl."

We'll see about that.

Check back for more updates. I'll be updating as stuff happens.

PRESSURE points for tonight's Indy game

If you read this blog, and I know you do because you're reading this blog, you know how I feel about the importance of Miami's offensive line. Just in case you need reminding, here is today's column on the OL I wrote for Mother Herald.

If you want the matchup breakdown of tonight's Monday Night Football meeting between the Dolphins and Colts, you now have the link for that.

But in this post I want to approach things from a different perspective.

I want to show you the pressure points for the Dolphins. These are the areas that the Colts probably think they can attack and perhaps even win at during the game. These are the areas where the Dolphins need improvement over last week.

These are the areas that, finding resolution, will bring victory to the Dolphins. And lacking resolution, would send the Dolphins down in defeat. The pressure points:

The secondary -- Last week the Dolphins dodged a bullet. Sean Smith had terrible technique on two or three plays and Matt Ryan found him each time. But the Atlanta QB either overthrew, or underthrew passes to open receivers that would have shredded the secondary. So Smith's first game was not a disaster. It was fine.

The Colts have nearly as good a complement of receivers as the Falcons -- although Anthony Gonzalez will not play tonight -- and their QB is much better. Peyton Manning makes throwing mistakes in tosses to open receivers, too, like any other QB. But he doesn't do it two or three times in one game as Ryan did.

So Smith must show improvement. He told me his greatest problem was keeping his technique good when running with a receiver that went in motion across the formation. He said he worked on that all this week. We'll see.

The offensive line -- Read my column on the unit. If gives insight into the difference in philosophy between the football side and business side of the Miami Dolphins. It also makes the point that if the OL plays well tonight, the Dolphins will likely win.

Interesting perhaps only to me is that the Miami OL has struggled in games against smallish offensive defensive lines recently -- with the Tampa Bay preseason game and the Atlanta regular-season opener coming to mind. It wasn't just Jake Long, either. Miami is big across the line and all five men had issues with opponents that were generally quicker.

Justin Smiley told me it wasn't all five guys struggling at the same time, either. It was four guys carrying out their assignments and one guy blowing it. And it was a different guy every time. So that tells me the OL needs time to gel. The struggles against the quicker opposition is a timing issue as much as anything.

So it's not about proficiency. It's about efficiency.

That makes me optimistic a better day is coming soon. We'll see if that day is actually tonight.

Chad Pennington -- I love Chad Pennington. He's a great leader. He's a winner. I recognize his arm-strength issues but don't necessarily believe they are the reason he hasn't won big in the NFL.

But ...

The last two meaningful games he's played, he's been terrible. He was terrible in last season's playoff loss to Baltimore, throwing four interceptions. He was better against Atlanta, but still had a couple of turnovers -- one via interception and one from a lost fumble.

So the last two games Pennington is 46 of 67 for 428 yards, with two touchdown passes and five interceptions. That's a 64.7 QB rating.

More troubling than those statis is the fact Pennington has gotten the Miami offense in the end zone only twice in the last two games -- once against Baltimore, once again Atlanta. And both those TDs came in the fourth quarter when the games were all but decided.

It's the quarterback's primary job to get his offense in the end zone. Pennington hasn't done a great job of that the last two games.

He's better than that. And he has to start reminding people of that starting tonight.

Finally, I'm having a hard time seeing a victory tonight. So it's on you. What is the recipe for victory against a team with a solid D, a better QB, an OL that is the equal of Miami's and a better receiver corps?

Coaching? The Dolphins have the edge there. But what else authors a victory?

[BLOG NOTE: Yes, there is a live blog of the game tonight! I'll have it set up a few hours before kickoff and be on here with you guys to discuss pregame activities and news. Come back then.] 

September 20, 2009

The focal point of attention in Miami? Always OL

In the next 24 hours you will hear that Monday Night's game will come down to turnovers or how Chad Pennington compares with Peyton Manning or whether the Wildcat is unleashed on more than just three plays.

There are a myriad focus points that could determine the outcome of the game.

Can we get to the bottom line for the Dolphins? The offensive line.

Look there when Monday's night's game is complete. If the Dolphins line has played well, it will more than likely mean the team has won. If the line plays poorly -- as it did last week versus Atlanta -- Dolphins fans will be staring at an 0-2 record.

That's because with the way the Dolphins have been built -- with $156 million in salary spent on the starting line, with tons of draft pick and free agent resources expended there -- when the offensive line plays well, life is good.

When the offensive line lays a collective ostrich-sized egg ...

"It could be bad," left guard Justin Smiley said. "I agree with that 100 percent. I have a saying: Heavy is the head that wears the crown. They give you a lot. They expect a lot in return. And this is a high-performance business. It's like, you may like your pool guy, but if you come home and your pool is dirty, you're getting a new pool guy. That's the bottom line. So we got to be able to get it done."

One might argue the play of any NFL's team offensive line typically determines whether that team wins or not. That could be true, although not in all instances. But I argue Miami's line is exponentially more important to the success of this team because that is where the Dolphins have placed the most emphasis since Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano have come to South Florida.

Think about it:

Miami's first free agent signee under Parcells? Smiley, at precisely 23 minutes after the start of free agency in 2008.

Miami's first draft pick under Parcells? Left tackle Jake Long, who remains the NFL's highest-paid lineman at an average of over $10 million per season.

The unit on which the most money was utilized during the 2009 free agency period? You guessed it, the offensive line, where right tackle Vernon Carey was re-signed for $42 million and center Jake Grove was signed for $29.5 million.

And what should the Dolphins expect for using so many resources on the offensive line? The team strength. The team's foundation. The team's unquestioned epicenter.

And what have the Dolphins actually gotten for using so many resources on the offensive line? Let's just say the return has not yet matched the investment.

"I say we've done some really nice things, but we've been too inconsistent in the preseason to go to where we want to go against the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots," Smiley said. "We got the big boys now."

Miami's big boys have gotten their butts handed to them the past two games they've played together for a significant number of snaps. The Falcons had four sacks and made the Miami running game -- by no means a failure -- of non-effect, anyway.

Before that regular-season opener, the Miami line put much effort into making an impact during the third preseason game -- the dress rehearsal for the opener. And that game was also a disappointment for the linemen. 

"There [were] too many four guys kicking butt and one guy not doing good on each play -- whether it was me or somebody else," Smiley said. "We're a team within a team. It's no way to make a living when one guy isn't doing his job and the other four are. And I've been on the bad end of that one as much as anybody."

Well, that has to stop if Miami is to beat the Colts. Indianapolis present another quick line with premier pass rushers and the Dolphins will be severely tested.

Miami, of course, seems prepared. Linemen this week held extra meetings among themselves to help identify the problems. Sparano, a former line coach, rolled up his sleeves and worked with assistant Dave DeGuglielmo to find reasons for the problems and correct them.

Their success in doing that will be measured by how well the line plays Monday night. And that is kind of important. Because, for the Dolphins, how the well line plays usually determines whether the team wins or loses.

September 19, 2009

Thoughts (I have a few) on White activation

I know for a fact the Dolphins liked Pat White early in the draft process. Bill Parcells personally fell in love with the kid's play at West Virginia and in the Senior Bowl and was sharing that fact with his buddies at Spring Training games up in Jupiter, FL. early on.

The stuff about the Dolphins being moved to pick White because they feared New England would snatch him is bogus.

And now that Miami has Pat White, it has to figure out what to do with Pat White.

That normally isn't a big issue. If you've got a player that is going to contribute, you suit him up, activative him and throw him out there, hoping he'll succeed. But White, who's position, plays and even game status are veiled in secrecy, is not your ordinary player.

First of all, the Dolphins don't want folks to know when and how they're going to use White. That's a problem because the Dolphins also have made it clear White is strictly a quarterback and the NFL has rules concerning the three quarterbacks on the roster.

Because White is a quarterback, the Dolphins last week decided to designate him the No. 2 while true backup QB Chad Henne was designated the No. 3, or the emergency QB. As ESPN's Len Pasquarelli points out in his Friday Tip Sheet, that immediately tipped off the Falcons that White was indeed going to be used against them.

"When we saw that White was No. 2," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said, "We knew they had some Wildcat stuff planned."

So the Dolphins, try as they might to keep White's status a secret, are dogged by the fact you must designate your QBs 90 minutes before the game so the Wild cat is out of the bag.

To combat this Pasquarelli suggests the Dolphins designate White as a receiver or running back instead, so as to not tip off the opposition before the game. Sounds logical on the face of it. But there are problems with that approach.

First, White cannot be designated a wide receiver because he doesn't wear a WR number. He'd have to change his number to officially change positions. Secondly, the Dolphins did little to no work with White at wide receiver during training camp.

And though White might be able to line up at receiver as he did against Atlanta, that's not what the team has planned for him. The Dolphins want him taking snaps from center and either running or passing out of the spread offense. They have receivers to play receiver a lot better than White can.

Finally, the idea of designating White as a receiver or a defensive tackle for that matter, doesn't change the fact he takes up an active roster spot. And if Henne is taking up an active roster spot, that means someone who was active last week has to be deactivated.

The simple math is if you have White, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne active, someone has to be take a seat in the stands as an inactive player.

That poses a problem in its own right because the Dolphins are freaks about how many plays they will milk from each player they take to the game. If the Dolphins lose one of those players, somebody has to pick up the slack.

So there is no easy solution for making White active. It might be that Chad Pennington, Pat White and Chad Henne might all be active for some game to not tip Miami's hand on the use of White 90 minutes before the game. But that is a fleeting strategic victory as most teams will assume if White is active, he'll get snaps regardless.

That leads me to these two scenarios:

Is White worth having active at all. I would tell you that if White is active versus Indianapolis -- which is NOT a certainty -- he must produce because two consecutive unproductive weeks might cause coaches to conclude he's not yet ready to contribute.

And what makes White any less accountable than any other player, particularly a rookie? You're not ready? You sit.

Also, White has to be productive and do so in a package of plays that numbers at least half a dozen to a dozen. After all, what good is having White active for three plays and plays that fail at that?

So the pressure is on White to show up soon.

One more thought:

This conversation would be so different had White actually completed that lone pass attempt last week to Ted Ginn. That pass connects and it changes everything.

Defenses, you see, expect White to run. So, if they react like the Falcons reacted, they will load the box when he was at QB. That was obvious on his run for zero yards.

But if White completes that fateful pass, defenses have to respect his arm. And now they're not putting eight defenders in the box. And now White can run, which forces them to respect the run. And now they have to respect both run and pass. And that causes problems for the defense!

Had that pass been two feet shorter, it would have changed everyone's outlook on Pat White.

Of course, had I picked the right six numbers last weekend and actually played those numbers, I wouldn't be writing any of this right now. That, like the completion, did not happen.

So White must make something good happen this week. Assuming he gets another opportunity.

September 18, 2009

Clearing out the Friday notebook

We know tight end Anthony Fasano had a terrible game Sunday in that he caught two passes and fumbled both, thus giving the Atlanta Falcons two of the four turnovers the Dolphins suffered.

But what goes relatively unseen is the fact Fasano had an otherwise good game blocking.

"One of the funny things is Anthony in that game last week is one of the things that goes unknown is that he probably had one of his best blocking performances since we've had him here," Coach Tony Sparano said Friday. "I really thought he blocked well at times in that game. Protected well, run-blocked very well in that game."

That does not excuse the fumbles, obviously. But it does give you some perpsective of what really happened.

Sparano, meanwhile, has not lost confidence in the young tight end.

"And of course, there's two fumbles that are uncharacteristic of Anthony Fasano," Sparano said. "I have a lot of confidence in Anthony as well as all my players and I know that's going to get fixed."


As I reported to you earlier in the week, Monday night's game against Indianapolis will be sold out. The Dolphins continue to sell tickets but only a couple of hundred remain and those will be gone by the 8:30 p.m. deadline.

So the game will be televised nationally ... And in South Florida.


We sort of take for granted that Jason Taylor is a 13-year veteran and, as such, shouldn't have to think about getting into his stance. It should be second-nature.

But it is not.

After playing for over a decade out of a three-point or four-point stance, Taylor is still not quite comfortable in the two-point stance he is using a majority of the time in Miami's 3-4 system.

"I'm getting more used to playing in a two-point stance now coming out, particularly in pass-rush situations," Taylor said. "In years past, I was always in a three-point, or really a four-point over my career. I think I'm still more comfortable in the three or four-point. I've done it for so long. I feel more explosive. I feel a little better coming out of it, but what we like to do down here is play out of a two-point, and that's the 3-4 system, and I need to learn how to create that same explosion and quickness out of the two-point.

"It's a work in progress. At times I catch myself wanting to inch down and get back in a three-point, but I'm working on it."

The stance is defined by how many points of your body touch the ground. Standing up, both your feet are touching the ground thus defining two-point stance. One hand on the ground is a three-point, and both hands on the ground is a four-point.

"Coming out of your stance in a three-point stance or a four point stance, which I believe Jason liked to use at times, is a lot different than coming out of your stance in a two-point stance," Sparano said. "The false stepping, the actual rolling over of the front foot in a two-point stance is a little bit harder than it is coming out of one of these four-point stances from a leverage standpoint.

"Your natural reaction would be to false step when you're in a two-point stance. And if you false-step, advantage [offensive] tackle. I think that in a three-point or in a four-point stance, it's a lot easier when you get high on your front hand and you get your butt way up in the air, to roll over your front foot. Dwight Freeney is going to do it however many times we throw it this week. That's just the way he plays. I think if you took that guy and stood him up, all of a sudden it's like, 'Oh boy,' because the the rolling over of the front foot and the none-false-stepping part of this whole thing sounds easier than it really is."

That kind of makes Taylor's sack and quarterback hurry against Atlanta a litte more impressive.


The Dolphins are headed for some personnel changes, or at the very least, some assignment changes on special teams.

The coaching staff wasn't pleased with the 18.4 kick return average in the Atlanta game and has decided it wasn't an issue with either Ted Ginn (18.3 yards per return on three tires) or Patrick Cobbs (18.5 yards per return on two returns).

The problem was with the blocking and Sparano vows changes.

"We changed up some roles," the coach said. "We'll get some different people doing different things and see how that goes."

Sparano agrees Dolphins offense has no star

I spent much of the day Thursday trying my best to explain some aspects of the Miami offense that troubled me. Then, after offensive coordinator Dan Henning addressed some of those issues, I shared with you his perspective.

Now let us get beyond all the philosophical disagreements about whether guys are being used correctly or not and get down to the bottom line. Let's get to the crack that breaks open the nut.

The Dolphins need more playmakers. And it would be nice in adding more playmakers if they could uncover even one star, a legitimate game-changer.

Because they do not have that yet.

Don't get me wrong, Miami's offense has good players. But it lacks a star playmaker. And even coach Tony Sparano is admitting that.

“We have said it before, there is no real star in this bunch of guys," Sparano said Thursday. "It has kind of been done by committee here. Certainly Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, Chad Pennington, big names in this league for obvious reasons. We kind of do things by committee a little bit and some of the people here that aren’t out here every down have big parts in this thing, too.

"[Patrick] Cobbs, [Davone Bess], those people are major contributors to what we do on that side of the football. [Brian] Hartline and his 25 plays. So whoever has the hot hand is kind of the guy we will try to find ways to get the ball to.”

The rebuilding of the Dolphins offense, done last year and during this offseason, concentrated on the offensive line. That's where Miami put its money. And that starting unit is set -- it better be because it's costing $156 million. But the Dolphins are not finished retooling at wide receiver, at quarterback, at tight end, and perhaps not at running back, either.

As former Giants QB and current CBS analyst Phil Simms said on the Sid Rosenberg Show on 560-WQAM Thursday, "they need more guys," before adding, "they're still not there."

The Dolphins weren't there last year, either, but somehow made it work during the regular season. We'll see if this group can make it work the rest of this regular season, even as skeptics are saying they will not.

What skeptics, you ask? This is what ESPN analyst Merril Hoge tweeted about Miami's offense Thursday after breaking down the Atlanta gametape: "I'm afraid that Miami O will really struggle this year it appears that all explosive plays must come from a gadget play like [Wildcat]."

The point here is not whether you agree or disagree. I think a majority of you will agree the Dolphins have good players at WR, RB, QB and TE, but also concede there is no star in the bunch.

The question is have the Dolphins had enough time to find a star playmaker or one likely to become that? And have they maximized their time in accomplishing the goal?

Before you answer, I remind you Atlanta was also a franchise in shambles after 2007 and has risen back to respectability every bit as quickly as Miami.

And it can be argued the Falcons have risen higher.

In the same rebuilding time, the Falcons added a superstar tight end in Tony Gonzalez, a running back that gained 1,699 yards and scored 17 TDs last year in Michael Turner, and quarterback Matt Ryan, who is in the early stages of looking like a star for years to come.

I'm not saying Atlanta's approach to adding stars to the offense will prove wiser in the long-term than Miami's. But the approach has definitely been different. And, in the early stages, it has been more productive.

September 17, 2009

Miami's curious offense? Dan Henning responds

If you read the headline and it doesn't make sense, that's probably because you haven't read the initial post on the topic, just below this one.

Please do that now. If you don't want to and just want the synopsis so you can get right into Dan Henning's response then here it is: I posted that it doesn't make sense to spread the ball around to eight or so guys on offense when only two or three -- Ronnie Brown, Chad Pennington, Ricky Williams, Ted Ginn Jr. -- are truly dangerous playmakers.

I wrote the Dolphins should find a way to feed their best offensive players, even at the expense of other so-called weapons like Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano. I'm not saying shut down Bess and Fasano, but let's get our priorities straight.

And I wrote the Dolphins should be more stubborn in doing what they do well -- which hasn't been a lot from what we've seen the past two meaningful games vs. Baltimore and Atlanta. If you're going to lose, go down doing what you do best, not that thing you do third of fourth best.

Well, the timing of the post is good because on Thursdays the Dolphins coordinators speak to the media. So I and other reporters asked Henning about these issues.

On the subject of letting the defense dictate to his offense, more commonly known as taking what the defense gives you this is what Henning believes:

"I think anybody ... you better have a very, very good [offense] to think you're going to go out and impose your will on the opposition. People are too good in this league. There are too many resources with tape and video to be able to know what you're doing and how to stop it. If you have a great running game, they can stop a great running game. I mean, we stopped last week a very good running game in Atlanta. I don't know if they were No. 1 or No. 2 but we stopped them. We only gave them 68 yards.

"In the meantime Atlanta said, 'Well, if you're going to stop that, we'll take this.' And I think everybody has to have that package that way. If you don't, you're going to be stubborn and you're going to lose some games you should win. And you're going to win some games you should win automatically. I believe you have to have packages where you have certain plays you like based on your personnel and then you have counters to those plays -- whether they be reverses, counter traps, counter plays from the particular play your featuring. Then you see what they do and how they're trying to stop your featured players and build into them. What happens is sometimes those counter plays do better than your basic plays. That don't make any difference as somewhere along, you move the football. Because they're trying to take that away, they give you the big one. Last year, that's what happened to us a number of times with the Wildcat operation and even in some other areas where we would run some reverses with Teddy and so forth.

"Then all of the sudden, people say, 'Why don't you do that more? Why don't you make the trick play your base?' Well, the trick play don't work unless you got something to make them stop some strong part of your offense over here."

Salguero response: So your offense can only do one thing well? Why can't you run the ball with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and throw the ball well on a number of varied routes to Ginn?

On the subject of getting the ball more to Brown and Williams, the topic that really, really bugs me most:

"Now, you didn't include Pat Cobbs in there," Henning said. "We have those three backs. We have a tight end everyone wants to get the ball to and last year we had David Martin on top of that. Then we have Bess, and Camarillo and Teddy. And if you get 60 snaps a game and you're ahead in the game, let's say you're ahead in the game, the last 15 snaps will be runs, they're not going to be passes. So the first 45 have to split up between about eight guys. OK?

"You put eight into 45, what are we going to get here? How many carries are we going to get? If you're running the ball well and you're ahead, Ronnie and Ricky are going to get a lot of balls. If you get behind in the game -- like we only had 12 snaps with 22 minutes gone in the game -- you have to determine what do we want to do. We have a couple of things in the Wildcat. We have a couple of things with Pat White. We have a couple of things we haven't even explored yet with Chad Pennington. Well, my intentions are usually to try to leave the ball in the hands of Pennington and try and get the game back in synch and utilize Pat White and the Wildcat in the featured places we like to use them ...

"...That's the way the game's played. You feel fortunate, I feel fortunate, I've never been on a team with three backs as good as these three. Now I've been on a team with maybe a back -- I remember William Andrews when I had him with Atlanta and he's the best back I've ever coached and I was with John Riggins -- but three  guys that can do what these three guys can do, run, catch and block, we're fortunate to have them. At the end of the year if between the three of them we have 2,000 yards, I'll be happy. Now last year we had [1,623 yards rushing] with those guys. And we had 60-something catches between David and Fasano and that was a good blend. Then we had three receivers who caught almost 55 a piece -- Teddy, [Camarillo] and Bess. So we spread it around pretty good.

"So I'll say this to you and you asked my philosophy: If you've got a stud, I learned this from Hayden Fry 37 years ago. He gave a talk on the FTS offense. that was the heading for his talk. And I looked at it and said, 'What the hell is the FTS?' He said the FTS is Feed The Stud. He was at SMU, he had one good player. So he played him at quarterback, at receiver, he played him at running back ... If you have a stud, you better get him the ball."

Salguero response: Patrick Cobbs is a nice player, but please don't equate him with Brown and Williams. Don't insult us that way. Also, Miami studs are Ronnie and Ricky, are they not? So why are we talking about throwing to Bess or Fasano in the same sentence?

And does the stud change game to game?

"No, on this team I feel we have a blend of tremendous talent," Henning said. "Now stud, that's a word you go to when you say, 'I have this guy but I don't have a lot of other auxiliary pieces. So I'm going to feed this guy,' you know what I mean? There were times in Carolina we'd feed Steve Smith because he was the stud. In 2004 we got every one of our running backs hurt. Well Steve Smith was hurt also so we fed Muhsin Muhammad and that was the best year he ever had. We fed him because we didn't have a lot of other things going.

"Feed the stud is I got this outstanding talent and I have a blend of people around him and I don't have a lot of other auxiliary pieces. I'm getting the ball to that guy somehow in the course of the game. Right now I think they're all studs."

Salguero response: Cannot disagree more. They are not all studs. Dolphins don't have any studs if you define them the way Henning does. They have several supremely talented players, such as Brown and Williams. But everyone else is an auxiliary player. Why confuse the issue?

The Dolphins don't have eight players that scare a defense. They have Pennington, they have Williams, Brown, and they have Ginn. Get those guys the ball more. Don't ignore the other guys, but don't led Bess catch seven passes while Ginn gets only three.

Prioritize the ball distribution based on who your most talented and dangerous players are. Then feed them. Figure it out.

Your thoughts? 

Miami's curious offensive view of the world

I am not a football coach. I never played the game beyond pickup games of touch. So I am certainly no Xs and Os expert.

But after 20 seasons of covering the Dolphins and three seasons of covering the Hurricanes during their dynasty years before that, I've picked up things here and there. And I sometimes feel a discomfort about Miami's offensive philosophy.

Here's the deal: The Dolphins are of the mind that more players involved in the offense is better. All those players don't necessarily do all things well. But coaches are very comfortable with their own ability to pick out the things certain "playmakers" do well, and then they put them in the game to do those specialized things.

“I think we are a unique offense in the fact that we use a lot of different personnel, use a lot of different guys to do different things in our offense," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We have unique abilities if you look across the board. We are not typical in that you can point out ‘OK this is their No. 1 guy, this is their No. 2 guy and this is exactly what they do in the run game.’ "

"We are unique in that we have some guys that present some problems to the defense in certain areas and do some really really good things and have some real strong points about them and we are going to accentuate those strong points -- make sure we use every ability that we have out there. Then you throw in the Wildcat and things like that and hopefully it creates a recipe of success.

The Dolphins are also one of those offenses that "takes what the defense gives them." I hate offenses that take what the defense gives them, but more on that later. The Dolphins are very meticulous in seeing how the D is lined up and reacting to that, calling plays that best gives them chances to go to the defense's weakness rather than to its strength.

Consequently, if the defense decides to take something away from the Dolphins, Miami reacts by going away from that thing and picking on another area. Take Sunday's game at Atlanta. The Falcons decided they weren't going to allow Ted Ginn Jr. to get deep on them.

"I think Atlanta came into the game saying ‘Hey, we are not going to let these guys get behind us, especially Ted,' " Pennington said. "They played a lot of soft zone coverage if you watched the film, trying to keep everything in front of them."

Great. So that is the Dolphins telling you what their offense is about so far this season.

Now let me, as a total non-football guy, share my observations and, yes, frustration.

On the spreading the wealth deal: I hate it!

The Dolphins have five, maybe six, playmakers on offense -- Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Ted Ginn Jr., Patrick Cobbs (surprising but true), and Greg Camarillo.

No, I did not include Anthony Fasano or Davone Bess or Brian Hartline or anybody else because I've not seen those players light up an NFL defense. They might have caught routine passes. They might have scored a routine TD here or there, but none have, to my recollection, done anything extra-ordinary.

The point I'm making is the Dolphins, in my estimation, are so busy spreading the wealth that they forget who their playmakers are.

It should be a MUST for Miami to give Ronnie Brown the ball 25 times on offense. Period. Get him 20 carries and five receptions. Get him 15 carries and 10 passes that go for 5 yards and feel like runs. Get the ball in his hands 25 times per game somehow. Maximize his opportunities to hurt the defense.

It should be a MUST for Miami to get Ricky Williams the ball 10 times per game on offense. Give him a chance to run downhill at defenders, which few runners do any more. And if he's having success, let him do it some more rather than throwing a pass to Joey Haynos. Let Ricky pound the defense!

And it should be a MUST for Miami to put the ball in Ginn's hands 10 times a game. Throw it to him deep even if the coverage says don't. Here's an idea, throw it to him short -- on a slant, or on a bubble screen. If the defense is going to play deep, do the other things to get Ginn the ball short. But get him the ball!

The Dolphins offense needs to indentify its playmakers and author ways of getting those playmakers involved. We shouldn't look back on a game and say, "Boy, Ronnie got 10 carries, we need to do better." Do better during the game. Force the action!

That brings me to the "take what the defense gives us" mumbo-jumbo. Great offenses attack, they don't sit back and wait to be dictated to by the defense.

Example: You think defenses of yesteryear didn't try to take away Mark Clayton from Dan Marino? You think defenses didn't try to roll their coverages to Jerry Rice's side?

You think defenses today don't try to keep Randy Moss and Tom Brady from going deep? Or load the box against Adrian Peterson?

Of course they do. But those offenses still try to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers regardless of the defensive strategy. Remember, there is always a response, another avenue, to accomplish the same goal.

If the Falcons are trying to take away Ted Ginn deep, hand him the ball on an end around (without asking him to throw, which he isn't good at anyway). Throw a screen to him. Throw a sideline pass to him. Throw another sideline route to him. Now you've set up a double move. And what's wrong with launching one just to keep the defense honest, if nothing else. Who knows ... maybe Ginn comes up with it.

The point is if you are going to wave a white flag on using one of your better players merely because the defense wants you to, you are defeated already unless you have a ton of other playmakers. And the Dolphins do not have a ton.

The strange thing is the Dolphins didn't fall into this trap last year. They ran the Wildcat package even when it wasn't surprising people last year. They did what they did no matter what.

Now the Dolphins look like an offense with no identity because it wants to have many identities. Bess and Fasano are nice complimentary players. But sound offensive football is about using your feature players, not the guys from the background.

And sound offensive football is more often about taking from the defense that which it does not want to give -- the end zone. It is not always about taking what the defense is giving you.

Dolphins fans putting $$$ into sellout

New Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and coach Tony Sparano have a vested interest in packing the house at Land Shark Stadium Monday night. And it seems as if that will happen.

Although the game is not a sellout as of this writing, the Dolphins are privately confident it will sell out in time for kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts. The team is even banking on the game beating the NFL-enforced 72-hour local TV blackout deadline, meaning the game would be televised in South Florida.

The team is not discussing how many tickets must be sold between now and 8:30 Friday evening for the blackout to be lifted or how many dockets must be sold by kickoff for the stadium to be packed. But the number is under 1,800 1,500 according to a TicketMaster source.

So if you plan to attend, call the Dolphins ticket office or get to clicking on the TicketMaster site soon.

All this is good news for the team's bottom line because all indications have been that season ticket sales have hovered sluggishly in the 49,000 range for a stadium that seats 75,540 including club seats and executive suites. Executive suites sales are not included in the 49,000 figure nor do they figure toward sellout deadlines.

A sellout, by the NFL's definition, means all non-premium seats are sold.

The expected sellout is also good news for the team's football operations. Sparano wants the Dolphins home-opener sold out because it gives his team an actual home-field advantage.

“I think it will be exciting. I know Mr. Ross has put an awful lot into this evening coming up Monday night," the coach said. "I think our fans will be really excited about it. I hope the place is packed and I hope they’re really loud. We need it to be really loud this weekend. So, I’m looking’ forward to it, can’t wait to get back at it.”

Ross, who has invested much financial and goodwill capital in purchasing the Dolphins and then marketing them differently than previous owner Wayne Huizenga, obviously is hoping for something of a celebration -- not just on opening night but every game.

"I want each game to be an event," Ross told the Miami Herald last month. "We're doing the things we're doing to win first, but also to make Dolphins games the place to be."

Dolphins fans on South Florida's radio waves and in Internet interactive sites have been lukewarm to the idea of turning Dolphins games into events where celebrities come to be seen and orange carpets define VIPs.

But the fans whose voices count most -- the ticket buyers -- obviously have not been deterred by the ownership change nor the changes they've heard Ross will bring to the fan experience. One might say the reaction is even positive to this point.

That is apparent in that this game is headed for a sellout.

[BLOG NOTE: We are settling into regular-season mode now. That means you'll have a new post every morning, usually publishing after midnight. Then you'll get another new post sometime early afternoon, with instant news and analysis on the day's doings to that point. There should also be a late-afternoon update or new post available on most days. So check back many times throughout the day because things change around here. And if you miss one of the udpates, feel free to scroll back to the previous post.]

September 16, 2009

Chad Pennington: We'll get things fixed

It can be argued the Dolphins were broken on offense Sunday because they had more turnovers than touchdowns.

But a new practice week has dawned as the team prepares for Monday night's matchup with Indianapolis and quarterback Chad Pennington, most prominently, is thinking things are about to get better. In fact, he's sure things like fumbles and turnovers and interceptions that plagued the Dolphins last week are going to be addressed.

"We're going to get it fixed," Pennington said during his weekly press conference. "We're focused on getting it fixed. We're focused on eliminating those minus plays and eliminating those errors we can control. And the errors we made on Sunday, we can control those. Now, that doesn't guarantee you a win all the time, but at least you know you've done what you need to do to fix the things you can control. We're going to get that fixed. I'm very confident in that."

Pennington is not only sure his team's turnover problems will get solved, he's also quite confident the offensive line's problems will also be addressed. The Dolphins yielded four sacks against Atlanta.

"'I'm not worried about our offensive line," Pennington said. "Our offensive line plays extremely hard and prepares very well. When you have guys like I have in front of me with the attitude and approach they take, I don't think you need to worry. I know they'll get it fixed, I know they're working just as hard as I am to make sure they play well. They have a lot of pride in that room. They'll do what they need to do to come ready to play. And it's my job to come ready to play and match their intensity and focus and match their play as well.

"They'll be fine. I believe in them. I believe in all our guys on the offensive side. We're feeling eager to fix it this week in practice and go into Monday feeling confident about what we're doing."

Are you sold? Do you believe it? Discuss ...

What might have been with David Martin

Tight end David Martin has undergone surgery to repair "loose cartilage," inside one of his knees and is expected to be healthy in 6 to 8 weeks, according to his agent, Terry Williams.

"He'll be 100 percent soon," Williams said today. "He'll probably be better than what he was."

Martin won't be better for the Dolphins this year and perhaps not ever again. The window during which the Dolphins and Williams might have negotiated an injury settlement waiver has closed. Had such a settlement been reached, Martin would have become a free agent and could have returned to the Dolphins by Week 12.

But the sides could not come together on a settlement.

"I'm not going to have a player sign a settlement for less than what the doctor is saying it will take him to be 100 percent again," Williams said. "I would agree to get paid for the weeks the doctor says it will take to get healthy or just a little longer, in case something happens. But never for less time than the doctor says."

Williams said Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery Sept. 9 in Birmingham, Ala., was of the opinion the tight end would be healthy within six to eight weeks.

The Dolphins placed Martin on IR, thus losing him for the season barring the settlement. They thus decided not to hold Martin's roster spot, opting instead to go with Anthony Fasano, Joey Haynos and John Nalbone. Nalbone was inactive for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

Fasano had two catches for 10 yards and fumbled after each reception. Haynos had one reception for 21 yards.

It is possible the team might have held the roster spot open and tried to add Nalbone to the practice squad. That would have made Martin available once he got healthy.

"That's what we would have liked, but we're not upset or anything," Williams said. "If they wanted David, they could have kept him on the roster. But that's a business decision for the Dolphins and we understand that."

Martin could still be waived by the Dolphins once he becomes healthy. That would be a purely economic decision because it would mean the team is no longer paying the player. But that would also make Martin a free agent able to sign with any team except the Dolphins. The team is unlikely to open itself to the chance Martin might end up with a division rival.

As for next year, Martin is an unrestricted free agent. The agent said neither he nor Martin hold any grudge against the Dolphins and would consider re-signing  with the team.

"It'll be an economic decision," Williams said. "David loves the Dolphins and loves playing for them. But he'll go into free agency." 

[PRACTICE UPDATE: Everyone was present this morning when the Dolphins began working. TEs, QBs, WRs, and RBs, getting thumped with pads. Work is designed to help prevent fumbles. Obviously, Dolphins need that preventative work.]

The personification of Miami's difficult schedule

We've heard all summer, since the NFL schedule came out, that Miami's was reeeaally hard. It is the toughest in the NFL taking last season's records ... blah, blah, blah.

Well that all is true. But Monday night, on national television, the reason that schedule is truly difficult will be personified at the tight end and defensive end positions the Dolphins must contend with and contain.

Last week, the Dolphins struggled to cover only the best tight end to play the game the past decade or so, and some say ever. Tony Gonzalez caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown versus Miami in generally getting the better of Miami safeties Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson.

So yes, that kinda hurt the Miami defense. And this week the assignment, it can be argued, gets tougher.

This week the Dolphins have to deal with Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark, a Pro Bowl player in his own right and one tied for most touchdowns by a tight end since 2007 with 17. So the Dolphins go from one difficult assignment and fall into another inarguably difficult assignment.

That is the personification of a difficult schedule.

It does not end there.

We all saw last week the difficulties left tackle Jake Long had against John Abraham. He yielded a sack and several hurries to Abraham. And that is understandable because Abraham is a premier pass rusher who had 16 1/2 sacks last season to earn a spot among the NFL leaders.

Well, this week the assignment remains difficult for Long. This week he faces defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who combined for 22 sacks a season ago. Freeney (10 1/2 sacks in 2008) and Mathis (11 1/2 sacks in 2008) typically switch from side to side as their defensive calls warrant. So Long will likely face both if they're healthy.

That's back-to-back weeks of double-digit sack men on tap for Long. That never happened to him in 2008.  In fact, Long had only one game in which he faced a player that would total double-digit sacks for the season in 2008 -- that coming when he faced Houston's Mario Williams.

Said another way, Long faced only one player that had double-digit sacks in 2008. And by Week 2 this year, he will have faced three players that had double digit sacks in 2008.

So don't tell Jake Long the schedule ain't harder. And that schedule promises more challenges down the pike for both Miami's safeties and Long.

Remember I told you Clark is tied for most TD catches by a tight end since 2007? He's tied with San Diego's Antonio Gates. The Dolphins play Gates and the Chargers in Week 3.

Long, meanwhile, is looking at a season in which he's going to run into Shawne Merriman, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jevon Kearse, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams again, James Harrison, Aaron Schobel twice, Will Smith and Charles Grant. And all those men have had double-digit sacks seasons in the NFL.

September 15, 2009

Dolphins need to nurture momentum

Momentum is an amazing thing in football. It neither wears a uniform nor schemes strategy, but it definitely plays a prominent role in helping to determine the outcome to NFL games.

The Dolphins are familiar with Big Mo. He was a friend last year, as one improbable win at New England snowballed and grew into a dramatic season-long turnaround.

Big Mo was not quite so friendly to the Dolphins during the Atlanta game Sunday. He felt more like Moe of the Three Stooges. And, as a result, this team must do some soul-searching in the coming days and weeks, particularly as it pertains to the offense.

On defense, the Dolphins handled potentially disastrous momentum with great equanimity and composure. Four times the Miami defense was forced to take the field in its own end and stop the Falcons from taking advantage of a turnover.

The Dolphins call that situation their "sudden change defense."

"I thought our sudden change defense was very good, which got tested pretty well during the course [of the game]," coach Tony Sparano said. "I think there was four times during the game that they had to go out there and a few times they had to work on a short field."

The Falcons got the ball on the Miami 37 yard line after a Chad Pennington fumble in the first quarter. Miami's sudden change defense forced a punt.

The Falcons got the ball at the Miami 31 yard line after an Anthony Fasano fumble in the second quarter, and the Dolphins held the Falcons to a field goal.

The Falcons got the ball at the Miami 20 yard line after a Pennington interception in the third quarter. The Miami defense apparently didn't have enough fingers to plug the dam's leaks this time as the Falcons cashed in a TD.

The Falcons got the ball back at the 38 yard line the same period after another Fasano fumble. This time the Miami defense held and the Falcons missed a field goal.

"You know, now sometimes the sudden change thing, you can look at those like they’re turnovers, you know, when you win on sudden change," Sparano said. "You stop ‘em after a turnover and they miss a field goal, you feel like that’s a win. But, the problem is you’re not gaining any yards doing it."

The victory feels particularly empty when the momentum the team gains from stopping the opponent on defense is, well, wasted by the offense.

The Dolphins offense has a ton of issues right now. And you can count how it handles momentum as one of them.

I'm not saying the offensive play-calling was bad here. But it was questionable and it did hurt Miami's momentum. Case in point:

Pennington was running for his life and rushed often. He didn't get much of a chance to find a rhythm. So what happens when Pennington throws his best pass of the game, a 16-yard rope to Ted Ginn Jr. in the second quarter, giving the Dolphins a first-and-10 at the Miami 34 yard line?

The Dolphins take the ball out of the suddenly lukewarm quarterback's hands.

Miami goes into its Wildcat package on first and second down. On first down, Ronnie Brown gains four yards. On second down, Pat White runs for zero yards.

And that leaves Pennington with a third-and-6 situation when the ball reverts to him. He does not convert.

On Miami's next possession, the offensive line is seemingly starting to create some creases in the Atlanta defense as Ricky Williams gains 7 yards on a first-down run. Well, the Dolphins follow that successful base offense play by heading back into the spread formation for White.

White fakes a handoff, and throws a pass deep downfield and harmlessly over the head of a WIDE OPEN Ginn. It was as if White just threw the ball as far as he could, hoping for something good to happen. The percentage of success on such faithful prayers is typically not good.

And now that the first-down run momentum is wasted, the Dolphins have to continue passing the ball even as the two-minute mark hits. They ultimately fail when Fasano fumbles. Momentum wasted.

The one that really bugged me, however, came in the third quarter. Down, 10-0, the Dolphins move from their own 20 with a nice mix of run and pass. Ronnie Brown gains 6 yards. Pennington passes to Davone Bess for 14. Ricky Williams gains 4 and then 8 yards rushing.

The Dolphins have the Falcons in retreat with a first down at the Atlanta 38 yard line. And then offensive coordinator Dan Henning gets cute, calling a pass-run option for Ginn. Yeah, the base offense is working, the starting quarterback just completed a 14-yard pass, so let's ask our best receiver to throw the next pass.

Sparano said the play was a nightmare. Well, he didn't say it was a nightmare, but did say no one was open and the offensive line "had leakage inside," meaning somebody wasn't blocking. So Ginn salvaged the broken play with a 1 yard run.

And that sound heard around the Georgia Dome? That was Miami's momentum balloon deflating.

The Dolphins suffered a penalty on the next play and Pennington's interception after that.

So what's the point?

Simply that while the Dolphins seem married to the spread with White and the Wildcat package, perhaps considering time away from the spouse now and then is a good thing.

When the spread asks your third-best QB to throw the football, that cannot be smart -- especially considering your starter completed 67 percent of his passes last year. When your gimmick calls for your deep threat receiver to throw the ball, that's not maximizing your chances to succeed, either.

And when the base running game is on a relative roll, why go away from it all of a sudden? Why not pound the opponent until he proves he can stop you?

All last year I heard grumblings from the offensive line how they like running out of the base offense and proving they can be good at doing that. I'm getting the feeling Pennington cannot be thrilled about having the ball taken out of his hands to let an unproven rookie take shots down the field.

"Wildcat is part of what we do," Pennington said after the game. "As a quarterback, you have to be able to adjust to that. And I don't really have an opinion one way or the other."


One more thing: I'd rather have a bigger, stronger, faster Ronnie Brown running the ball out of Wildcat than having Brown lead a sweep with White running the ball. Just saying.

I'm not saying the Dolphins should put Wildcat on the shelf. I'm not saying they shouldn't try to explore the possibility that White can indeed add a dimension to the offense. But the leash has to be short. If the kid isn't ready to make plays, that will become evident very quickly -- next game, even.

And if the wild and gimmicky side of the offensive play-calling is killing the momentum for the base set, that's not good either. That's just outsmarting yourself. 

Hey, thanks for all the kind comments and e-mails you have sent in recent days following my mom's passing. You have warmed my heart. All of you.

Finally, follow me on twitter dabgumit!  

September 14, 2009

Sparano's day-after presser [Updated]

Coach Tony Sparano just finished his press conference this morning.

Here's what he said:

He said the Dolphins gave up "172 minus yardage," which he equates to 12 1/2 points. Minus yardage is yards on fumble returns. Yards on sacks. Yards on interception returns. Etc...

The Dolphins also turned the ball over four times. "That's how you lose games in this league," Sparano said. "I told the team at halftime when we had two of them, 'you're aware that two turnovers in this league are hard to overcome. You know what you have to do. We have to work our tail off to overcome these and we have to try to take the ball away from them."

The Miami defense played relatively well. But it did not cause any turnovers.

Tight end Anthony Fasano was responsible for two of Miami's turnovers on fumbles following receptions. To his credit, he was in the locker room Sunday to face tough questions and did the same today.

"Protecting the ball has to be the No. 1 priority," Fasano said.

He added the bad outing is, "something I have to learn from.",

The Dolphins gave up four sacks but Sparano made it clear the problem was physical rather than a coaching issue in which the Falcons came with some new stunts or blitzes or rush schemes. "Nothing they did was any different than what we prepared for during the course of the week or than we seen. They just rushed the passer."

Yes, left tackle Jake Long yielded two sacks and had other breakdowns also. You can see the game's signature sack below as Long had what is easily the worst game of his young professional career. "It was not a winning performance," Sparano said of Long. "I think Jake would tell you that."

Sparano said the team is likely to shorten up the "edges" this week for the tackles, meaning the tackles are allowing too much air between themselves and the pass rusher and so the first contact between the two is too close to the quarterback. That will be adjusted versus Indy Monday night. Good thing because Dwight Freeney is a pretty good edge rusher.

Sparano hinted the interior of the offensive line needs to gel. The physical communication between the players is not good enough and certainly not at the point players pick each other up on twist stunts, which plagued Miami Sunday.

Having said all that, it doesn't sound as if Sparano is confident the offensive line can come out next week and be the unit the Dolphins are paying for -- the $156 million bunch, as I have repeatedly told you. It is, apparently going to be a process.

"It's correctable, I think they're correctable," Sparano said. "I don't think we'll get them all ironed out in a week, but we'll get some of them ironed out. We're going to work hard to do it."

Sparano defended the coaching staff's decision to call the gimmick plays with Pat White and others at the time they did. One of those came after Miami moved the ball into Atlanta territory. The call was a Ted Ginn Jr. pass/run option. It became a busted play and a momentum killer.

No one was open downfield for Ginn, according to the coach. And, by the way, there was "leakage," along the offensive line that caused Ginn to be looking for running room rather than downfield anyway."

As to the timing?

"Nothing there made me feel we should be running it here or anything like that," Sparano said. "From a play sequence standpoint, that wasn't the problem. The problem was execution."

Sparano said some of the usage of Pat White was designed as a "waste pitch," meant to see how the Falcons were lining up -- to get a picture, so to speak.

The Dolphins gave the Falcons two different pictures of their secondary Sunday, one with Sean Smith at right cornerback, the other with Vontae Davis at right cornerback. The two rookies were platooned every two series.

Smith started and took the first two series. Then Davis took over for two series and so on. The players were told beforehand that would happen. And the idea, one supposes, is to bring both rookies along. Davis is also progressing to the point where he's earned playing time.

But here is the problem: Making a hard and fast rule that one player or another will be in for two series basically ices the other player on the bench. Smith was in the first two series and went to the bench with 7:01 left in the first quarter.

Then the Miami offense held the ball for 5:50, then the Atlanta offense held the ball for 7:27, then the Miami offense had the ball for exactly three minutes, then Atlanta got it back for 1:25, then Miami held the ball for 2:14.

So Smith was out of the game for 19:55 or one quarter plus 4:55. That can't happen while expecting Smith to just come back in the game for Atlanta's two-minute offense and be on his game.

On the injury front, Sparano said the Dolphins emerged from the game with, "a couple of bumps but nothing major."

Finally (for now), Sparano said the game did serve a bigger purpose.

"We figured out where we are and what we have to do to win," he said.

Some (OK, much) more on Atlanta flameout

"We've got 15 more games, man. What were we, 0-2, last year?" -- Dolphins left guard Justin Smiley

"You can't bank on what we did last year. This is a totally different year." -- Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington.

Two different ways of looking at the Dolphins 60-minute flatulation here in Atlanta Sunday. Both came from the quiet, quickly clearing Dolphins locker room after Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Falcons, both said by bright men who can think and analyze quickly. David J. in Atlanta, doing what'll probably be my last bit of subbing for Armando before he fully returns to the blogosphere this week.

Smiley's an optimistic guy and chose to look on the sunny side of the street. He said they were on the road, in a "hostile environment" against a good team, got Atlanta's best, didn't play their best by any stretch, but were in the game most of the way. And, what if it the first Fasano fumble didn't happen, Smiley asked? Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson cracked Anthony Fasano with a shot that woke the guys buried under Secaucus strip malls, thus creating a fumble that Brian Williams raced off with, killing a probable Dolphins scoring drive and getting the Falcons a field goal right before halftime. Instead of 7-7 or 7-3, it was 10-0, Atlanta.

Fasano admitted, "The guy put a good hit on me, but I didn't have the ball secured" but that wasn't an every day hit. Smiley's right in that regard -- it's not a common play. Then again, he's wrong in that the Dolphins got the best of the Falcons.

(He's also wrong about "hostile environment." There were significant numbers of Dolphins fans in the Georgia Dome. Besides, a "hostile environment" is a Hell's Angels meeting gone two drinks too long or a married couple's house in the hours after an argument.)

It's not common for Matt Ryan to blow the two wide open touchdown throws he did, to Roddy White on the Falcons' first drive and to Jerious Norwood after the aforementioned fumble. Those were throws Ryan or any above average quarterback makes regularly. Instead of down 10-0 at the half, the Dolphins easily could've been down 21-0. Jason Elam missed an extra point and field goals of 42 and 38 yards, one off the left upright, before nailing a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. That's seven points one of the best kickers of the last 10 years left on the field in a dome game.

This could've been so much worse for the Dolphins. They had all of two red zone trips. TWO! Which is worrisome going into the Inidianapolis game next week. Those are throws Peyton Manning doesn't miss, unless the Colts are facing Baltimore. The Dolphins might want to take a page out of the Ravens book and wait until just before the snap to get in exact position, just to make Manning's reads tougher. Then, it'll be at San Diego, off a short week and a trip to the West Coast.

Tough way to make an NFL living. That's why they needed to come out stronger Sunday.

You'd hope the Dolphins would run the ball with more consistency against Indianapolis, which is getting bigger and younger. Then again, Atlanta went with youth and relative inexperience and blew up running play after running play against the Dolphins after being one of the league's worst run defenses last year.

"They did a lot of line movements, darting, pinching, spiking, those kinds of things," Smiley said. "Teams like that have to do that against a team that can run the footbball. They did a good job of it."

By the time the Dolphins got anything together in the run game by going with pitches, thus giving the runner more time to examine his options and the line more time to open running lanes, the score was 10-0. NFL coaches tend to get antsy down by a touchdown and get downright panicky if they go down by double digits. There was no time to truly work the running game.

Chad Pennington had two very strange plays, either of which might've changed the game's course. The first was in the second quarter. Atlanta blitzed. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. was a good 6-10 yards behind the defensive back. Instead, with time to see the open Ginn on that side of the field, Pennington chucked the ball out of bournds.

The other play, a third-and-5 from the Dolphins 33, began with Pennington in shotgun and Ronnie Brown going in motion to the right. Nobody picked up Brown after the snap, leaving him all alone at the right sideline, a perfect safety valve that could take the pass a long way. Alas, Pennington never looked at that way and dumped off to Davone Bess for no gain. Brown stood in full fume before snatching off his chin strap and exchanging loud voices with one of the Dolphins assistants.

The skill position guys didn't appear to be on the same page much of the day. Or, maybe they were on the same page, but were reading different books. You know, one reading the Torah and the other, the New Testament.

When I asked Chad Henne when was the last time he dressed, but wasn't even the lead backup, just a guy that would be used in case of emergency. He quickly iterrupted, "I'm still the backup." then went back into good trooper mode, admitting he's never been in a "third quarterback" role but he knew it was a possibility if they had a package they wanted to use with White.

Speaking of which, Tony Sparano indicated there was a lot more to the White package the Dolphins didn't get around to using. "Get around to?" It's not as if the score or halftime or the third quarter snuck up on anybody.

Jake Long had some interesting words: "We had some great battles today. He's a great athlete. He's got power and he's herky-jersey. He's super quick so he can go inside, outside or around the edge. It was fun playing against him."

 Uh-huh. Fun? To get his first sack, the 268-pound Abraham treated the 317-pound Long like Abraham's daughter Endrayce was in a flaming car back in the pocket and the only way Abraham could get to her was through Long. He plowed Long so badly, the sack was sponsored by John Deere. And next week, Long gets to have "fun" with Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney.

Hey, the sack collectors are going to get theirs, especially if you get down a couple of scores behind and/or don't have the running game working. But you must minimize the damage. Long gave up two sacks, one to Abraham and another to one Kroy Biermann, a second-year backup who had two sacks and 21 tackles in 16 games last year.

Pennington's fourth quarter drive against an eased up Atlanta defense boosted his final passer rating to 84.8. After three quarters, with the score 16-0, Atlanta, Pennington was 12 of 16 for 100 yards and one interception, which works out to 64.6. Very mediocre -- if this were 1975. Nobody could get open downfield consistently, which didn't help the quarterback.

The defensive line might've been the bright spot of the day for the Dolphins. Second-year man Philip Merling, a second round pick, didn't practice well enough to keep his starting spot. He certainly played well enough Sunday, with a tackle for loss and affecting several passes. Merling, Starks, Jason Ferguson, Paul Soliai and Kendall Langford all did a good job of stuffing the run like Grandma Bessie stuffs cabbage around this time of year. Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, averaged 4.6 per carry last year. Sunday, they averaged 3.0 and it only got that high because of a couple of garbage time runs.

But, downfield, the Dolphins obviously had their problems, especially covering Tony Gonzalez. After Gonzalez's five catches for 73 yards that included a diving 19-yarder to set up one touchdown and a 20-yarder catch-and-lope that was Atlanta's second touchdown, safety Gibril Wilson said he didn't think Gonzalez did anything special.

"He's a possession receiver and he's a body kind of guy," Wilson said. "A lot of times, when you're right there, you can't get through him and to the ball or they'll call PI. He did what he was supposed to do, but it was nothing special."

If you say so. Gonzalez has been so nothing special that he's bound for the Hall of Fame some day.

The special teams avoided disaster, not allowing a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown, but did allow the 18-yard punt return  in the fourth quarter. The receiver most targeted was White, who has had 10 balls thrown his way. In a second place tie are Gonzalez with nine. Dolphins' wide receiver Davone Bess led the Dolphins with seven.

The wake up call comes early and it's late with little else to say about this game in this forum.

September 13, 2009

Fins lose another season opener, 19-7 to Birds

It's become customary for the Dolphins to lose their season opener. They've now done it six of the past seven years. But they looked particularly bad in Sunday's 19-7 loss in Atlanta.

The Dolphins avoided their first opening game shutout since 1983 when Chad Pennington found Ricky Williams along the right sideline for a nine-yard touchdown with 3:21 left in the game. By then, however, the Dolphins were in desperation mode and the Falcons defense looked to be coming home eased up.

That was the Dolphins' second trip inside the Falcons 20. Two red zone trips, four turnovers, seven points.

Pennington finished the day 21 of 29 for 176 yards and a touchdown. But he fumbled once and threw an interception. The Dolphins had four turnovers for the day.

"They didn't give us any deep shots," Pennington said. "You have to step up and make sure it doesn't get snowballed. We let it snowball on us."

Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes for the Falcons. The guy taken two spots ahead of him in the 2008 NFL Draft, No. 1 overall Jake Long, had one of his worst days, allowing two sacks, several pressures and being part of an offensive line that couldn't make running room against a young defense with six new starters.

Right tackle Vernon Carey also gave up two sacks.

The Miami offensive line, coming at a cost of $156 million, was terrible. Pennington was sacked four times, hurried 13 times and knocked down 6 times. And the disappointing thing is this unit is supposed to be built. Yes, the Dolphins have to improve at WR. Yes, they need more playmakers.

But the players this team is counting on for years on the OL -- Long, Smiley, Grove, Carey -- guys all making tons of money, were horrible today. They got dominated.

Tight end Anthony Fasano, Miami's top TE now that David Martin is on injured reserve, caught two passes. And he fumbled after both catches, losing both.

Miami's vaunted wildcat and spread offense was something of a dud. They ran three plays out of the package and gained four yards. Pat White overthrew a wide open Ted Ginn Jr. on his only throw of the day -- that out of the spread formation.

"When the Wildcat works, everybody loves it," Pennington said. "When it doesn't, everybody hates it."

The few bright notes for Miami? Phillip Merling played well, providing three quarterback hurries. Jason Taylor had one sack. The Miami run defense limited Atlanta's normally outstanding run offense to 2.5 yards per rush. Davone Bess quietly caught seven passes. The special teams didn't collapse.

The Dolphins are 0-1 and in the AFC East cellar as the Jets have already won today. New England and Buffalo play Monday night.

The Dolphins play Indianapolis at home Sept. 21. The Colts beat Jacksonville, 14-12 today.

Dolphins trail Atlanta 16-0 going into the final quarter

The Dolphins, who had 13 turnovers in 16 games, had 4 in the first three quarters Sunday and trailed Atlanta 16-0.

By the third quarter, the Dolphins base offense worked so anemically, they resorted to several gadget plays, including one that had Ted Ginn Jr. taking the handoff from Pat White on an end around option pass (Ginn kept the ball and ran). Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson caused a fumble that led to a field goal and had an interception that led to Tony Gonzalez's first touchdown catch as a Falcon. Gonzalez has now reached 11,000 receiving yards for his career.

Dolphins trail Falcons 10-0 going to 3rd Q

The Dolphins are losing 10-0 at halftime. The offense that suffered only 13 turnovers all of 2008 has two turnovers already this season.

And that offensive line that cost $156 million has plowed the Falcons aside to the tune of only 38 rushing yards.

Pat White participated in three spread offense plays -- one of which was an overthrow to a wide open Ted Ginn Jr.

The live blog continues in the comments section below.

Dolphins and Atlanta 7-0 midway through the second quarter

Matt Ryan underthrew a wide open Roddy White deep. Jason Elam missed a field goal after the Dolphins defense stonewalled the Falcons following a Chad Pennington fumble. That's why it was still 0-0 after the first quarter of the Dolphins season.

With 8:37 left in the second, Ryan hit Ovie Mughelli for a touchdown set up by a couple of catches by Tony Gonzalez that highlighted his talent and the Dolphins difficulty in matching up against him.

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